News / USA

    Honoring Unsung Hero of Women's Rights Movement

    Jane Addams advanced suffrage, democracy and world peace

    Jane Addams speaking to a crowd upon her arrival from the Netherlands after attending an international women's peace conference.
    Jane Addams speaking to a crowd upon her arrival from the Netherlands after attending an international women's peace conference.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Faiza Elmasry

    This week marks the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

    One of the unsung heroes of the suffrage movement was Jane Addams.

    Throughout her life, Addams struggled not only for women's rights, but also for labor and civil rights; free speech and world peace.

    In a new biography, "Jane Addams: Spirit in Action," historian Louise W. Knight provides the first complete picture we've had of this activist, philosopher and social reformer.

    'Jane Addams: Spirit in Action,' by historian Louise W. Knight
    'Jane Addams: Spirit in Action,' by historian Louise W. Knight

    Women's vote

    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, voting was a remote dream for women in America.

    Along with thousands of other progressive women, Jane Addams worked hard to turn the dream into reality.

    "She first got involved in the suffrage movement in 1897, when she gave a speech for women's suffrage and she attended her first meeting of the National American Women's Suffrage Association in 1906 and from then on, she became quite active," says Louise Knight, historian and author of "Jane Addams: Spirit in Action."

    Addams served as vice president of the association between 1911 and 1914. She traveled the country, lecturing and writing about suffrage. When the 19th amendment passed in 1920 giving women the right to vote, Addams became a member of the League of Women Voters, to help women become informed about the candidates and the issues on the ballot.

    Fighting for civil liberties

    Addams' fight for women's voting rights, Knight says, was part of a larger campaign she waged for civil liberties.

    In her book, Knight follows Addams' struggles as a grassroots organizer. Her achievements include co-founding Hull House, the nation's first settlement house which offered educational and social opportunities for immigrants.

    Jane Addams was 29 when she and two friends opened Hull House on Chicago's tough west side in 1889.
    Jane Addams was 29 when she and two friends opened Hull House on Chicago's tough west side in 1889.

    She co-founded the first national women's labor union and two major civil rights groups. She also lobbied for an eight-hour workday and an end to child labor.

    What fascinates biographer Knight is how Addams - who was born to a wealthy family - was able to connect with the working class and to fight so passionately for their rights.

    "She really believed you have to know people to understand how they look at the world and that's the only way you can be a true democratic citizen, kind of radical idea," Knight explains. "And she did it by living in a working class neighborhood full of diversity, of cultures and languages and backgrounds and work experiences, for most of her adult life, and forming friendships and partnerships with people from a completely different class than the one she was raised in."

    Pragmatic reformer

    That was one of the experiences that transformed Addams from a dreamy idealist into one of the nation's most effective and pragmatic reformers.

    "It wasn't something she ever doubted, that she was superior. Even though she wanted to treat people socially equally, she felt morally superior and what she discovered by knowing people and living among them was that was not true," she says. "That just being highly educated or highly cultured, as her society put it, was not enough. In fact, it was inadequate, and that what real culture was she saw among her neighbors who were immigrants, who had lived in one world and now moved to another world. She saw a broader tolerance among working class people, a generosity of spirit she did not see among her own class. And that's what changed her view of the world."

    Addams was a committed pacifist, and an outspoken opponent of war as an affront to the sanctity of life. Knight says Addams worked with other women to bring an end to World War I.

    Jane Addams (right) was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
    Jane Addams (right) was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

    "Women from both sides of the war met in the Hague in 1915 while the war was under way, showing much courage, and they basically were saying to themselves, 'there must be something we can try to do to stop the war,'" she says. "And they did try. Of course, they did not succeed."

    But after the war, women met again. They renamed the organization the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The international group is still based in Geneva and has offices around the world.

    Addams' commitment to the needs of others and her international efforts for peace were recognized in 1931 when she became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

    If she were alive today, Knight says, Addams would urge women around the world to come together and organize themselves as a force for peace.

    "Addams did not define peace as the absence of war, she defined it as, "the unfolding of worldwide processes making for the nurture of human life," Knight says. "And what she really meant by that was that it was a mistake to see some people as inferior whether based on their gender, or based on their ethnicity or their race or their class. So she thought you could advance peace through addressing those issues as well as addressing the issues of war."

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora